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Ibbotson [née Wiesner], Eva Maria Charlotte Michellelocked

(1925–2010)
  • Julia Eccleshare

Ibbotson [née Wiesner], Eva Maria Charlotte Michelle (1925–2010), author, was born on 21 January 1925 in Vienna, Austria, the only child of Berthold Paul Wiesner (1901–1970), a physiologist and leading pioneer of human artificial insemination, and his wife, Anna Wilhelmine, née Gmeyner (1902–1991), a successful author and playwright who worked with Bertolt Brecht. Her parents, who were non-observant Jews, separated in 1927 and Eva lived briefly with her mother in Berlin before returning to Vienna to live with her grandmother and several maiden aunts while her mother continued her career. Eva's parents reunited briefly to flee Germany together as refugees in 1933. Initially she lived with her father in Edinburgh while her mother remained in Paris. She spoke no English and so was taught by governesses at home rather than going to school. When her mother arrived in England in 1934 and settled in Belsize Park, London, she divided her time between her parents. She attended Dartington Hall School, Devon, until 1941, a place to which she paid affectionate tribute as the progressive school Delderton Hall in The Dragonfly Pool (2008), one of her last children's books, as well as in A Song for Summer (1997), a novel for adults.

Inspired by David Lack, her biology teacher at Dartington Hall, and encouraged by her father, Eva Wiesner studied animal physiology at Bedford College, London, before gaining a BSc in 1945. On completion of her degree she moved to the University of Cambridge to study for a PhD on the somatic effects of progesterone. At Cambridge she met Alan Ibbotson (1918–1997), an entomologist, whom she married on 21 June 1948. She abandoned her research degree without regret, having discovered that she did not like carrying out experiments on animals. Following their marriage, the couple moved first to Bristol and later to Newcastle upon Tyne, where Alan Ibbotson became a senior lecturer in agricultural entomology at Newcastle University. They had four children: Lalage (b. 1949), Tobias (Toby) (b. 1951), Piers (b. 1954), and Justin (b. 1959).

In 1965 Eva Ibbotson qualified with a diploma in education from the University of Durham. She briefly taught secondary school biology at Westfield School, Newcastle, before moving on to teach six-year-olds at Bolam Street primary school, Newcastle. At the same time she began her literary career with a television drama, Linda Came Today, in 1965 and three short stories: Der Weihnachtskarpfen ('The Christmas Carp', originally called 'The Great Carp Ferdinand'), 1967; Am Weihnachtsabend ('On Christmas Eve', originally called 'A Child this Day is Born'), 1968; and In den Sternen stand es geschrieben ('In the Stars it was Written', originally called 'The Stars that Tried'), 1971. All three were published as books in Switzerland and as stories in women's magazines in the UK. During the 1960s and 1970s she published over thirty short stories for magazines including Women's Realm and Good Housekeeping.

Ibbotson's first children's book, The Great Ghost Rescue, was published in 1975. The gently humorous story of a family of ghosts who are turned out of their home by a greedy landlord and subsequently discover that ghosts all over the country are being made homeless by rapacious property developers, this first novel contained the theme of displacement that Ibbotson revisited frequently in her books. Her final novel for children, The Abominables (2012), published posthumously, returned to it in a story of a family of Yeti being hidden in a vast furniture lorry and transported across borders from the Himalayas to a place of safety. Here, as in her original story and other novels in between, Ibbotson reflected her own early experience of being forcibly uprooted; she wanted to show children the injustice of dispossession and how badly those who belong are capable of treating outsiders. In doing so, she invariably showed optimistic and positive resolutions for the incomers, although she was frequently less forgiving of those who caused their distress. The ghosts of her first novel or other semi-supernatural creatures also reappeared in later titles such as Which Witch? (1979) and Dial-a-Ghost (1996). Ibbotson included these not because she herself believed in the supernatural: her intention was to stop children feeling afraid of it or of any kind of outsiders or ‘otherness’. They also appeared in The Secret of Platform 13 (1994) which, presaging J. K. Rowling's similar invention in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), included a magical platform at King's Cross Station, London, from which characters could escape to another world.

Ibbotson's most critically acclaimed novel for children was Journey to the River Sea (2001). The winner of the gold medal in the 9–11 category of the 2001 Nestlé children's book prize, the book was also runner-up for The Guardian children's fiction prize and was shortlisted for the Carnegie medal. The story of Maria, a resourceful and imaginative orphan who is taken to live with her disagreeable cousins deep in the Amazon rainforest, is a poignant and lyrical story which celebrates imagination, creativity, and nature. Here, and in other titles, Ibbotson's passion for the natural world and her close observation of it were vividly reflected. Ibbotson wrote sixteen novels for children and seven, largely romantic, novels for adults, including Magic Flutes (1982), which won the Romantic Novelists' Association award, A Company of Swans (1985), and Madensky Square (1988). She remained in Newcastle for the rest of her life and continued to write increasingly highly regarded novels until her death. She was editing her penultimate novel, One Dog and his Boy (2011), only days before her death, on 20 October 2010, at her home, 2 Collingwood Terrace, Newcastle, of heart disease. She was survived by her four children.

Sources

  • The Times (25 Oct 2010)
  • Daily Telegraph (26 Oct 2010)
  • The Journal [Newcastle] (26 Oct 2010)
  • The Independent (26 Oct 2010)
  • New York Times (28 Oct 2010)
  • Daily Telegraph (29 June 2012)
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Archives

  • Seven Stories, Newcastle, MSS, corresp.

Likenesses

  • M. Larkin, photograph, 2002, Photoshot, London
  • S. Mark, photograph, 2002, Camera Press, London
  • T. Pilston, group portrait, photograph, 2002, Rex Features, London
  • obituary photographs

Wealth at Death

£2,295,558: probate, 7 April 2011, CGPLA Eng. & Wales